- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Of Nebraska’s three congressional district races this November, most attention will be on the state’s Omaha-centric 2nd district, where Republican incumbent Lee Terry faces a strong challenge from Democrat Brad Ashford.

Terry is seeking his ninth House term. Incumbents usually are re-elected, and Terry’s prospects improved in 2010 when redistricting increased the number of Republicans in the district, which now has about 153,000 Republicans, 138,000 Democrats and nearly 90,000 independent voters.

But several issues threaten to derail Terry’s re-election plans, including a minimum wage initiative on the November ballot that could draw more supporters of Ashford, who supports the proposed wage increase. Terry opposes the proposal.

Randall Adkins, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said midterm elections tend to draw candidates’ base supporters to the polls, making the minimum wage issue a more important factor in the 2nd District race.

“It could be that Ashford might be able to get more Democrats out to the polls than Terry can get Republicans,” Adkins said.

Terry’s campaign argued the issue would help Terry by drawing more conservative voters who oppose a minimum wage increase.

“It hurts people,” Terry campaign manager Kent Grisham said of raising the minimum wage. “It means there might be fewer jobs available. … It means that some employers will choose to eliminate jobs, because they simply can’t be made to pay more when the rest of their business isn’t really changing for the better.”

Terry prefers to seek job training for Nebraskans so they qualify for higher-paying jobs already available in the Omaha job market, Grisham said.

But also dogging Terry is a remark he made last year when asked if he would continue collecting his congressional paycheck during a brief government shutdown.

“Dang straight,” Terry told The Omaha World-Herald, adding that he has “a nice house and a kid in college.” Terry soon apologized and said he would not take his federal paycheck until furloughed federal workers were paid, but Democrats have used Terry’s initial remarks to skewer him in television and online campaign ads.

“When we tell folks that Congressman Terry kept his pay during the government shutdown, opposes raising the minimum wage and opposes paycheck fairness for women, they are making it clear to us that they have no hesitation about supporting Brad Ashford,” Ashford campaign manager Kurt Gonska said.

A third party candidate, Libertarian Steve Laird, is also running.

In 2012, Terry eked out a win after Democrat John Ewing drew more than 49 percent of the vote.

Turnout could be the biggest factor, Adkins said.

“If the race hinges on a few hundred votes, that could have been an extra weekend going door to door,” Adkins said. “It could have been an extra town hall meeting. It could have been staying up a little later one night working phones.”

No surprises are expected in Nebraska’s other heavily Republican districts.

GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry received nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2012 and is again the favorite this November as he faces Democrat Dennis Crawford, an attorney in Lincoln.

In Nebraska’s vast, rural 3rd District, Rep. Adrian Smith is expected to coast to a win over Democratic challenger Mark Sullivan.

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